The Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, allegedly carried out a cyber-attack leading to an explosion and the resultant blackout in an Iranian nuclear facility in Natanz, according to reports.
The attack is believed to have dealt a severe blow to Tehran’s ability to enrich uranium and could take at least nine months to restore.
Iran on Monday blamed the Jewish nation for the attack, calling it an act of “nuclear terrorism”.
“Zionists want to take revenge for the success in the path of lifting the oppressive sanctions, but we will not allow it and we will take revenge for these actions from Zionists themselves,” said Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.
The Jerusalem Post said it was a Mossad operation. According to the media outlet, in a possible reference to the reported Mossad operation taking the uranium enrichment machines off-line within hours of their launch, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday: “The situation that exists today will not necessarily be the situation that will exist tomorrow.”
This is not the first time the Natanz nuclear facility has been targeted. Stuxnet, a computer worm created by a combined western effort to damage nuclear infrastructure by interfering with its programming, had reportedly stalled Iran’s nuclear program. It was a strategy to force Iran to agree to the nuclear deal of 2015.
After the deal fell through, attacks continued; those linked to the program were assassinated. Last year, top Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was killed in a suspected Israeli attack.
Yesterday, @Maxar released a really high-quality images of the changes at Natanz from October 21. @rafaelmgrossi has said that Iran is building an underground centrifuge assembly facility. We don't quite know, yet, where the facility will be located. pic.twitter.com/ZLCV0c5zcA
— Dr. Jeffrey Lewis (@ArmsControlWonk) October 29, 2020
The timing of the latest attack is significant. Iran has begun injecting uranium hexafluoride gas into advanced IR-6 and IR-5 centrifuges at the facility the day before the attack. At the same time, the US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was on his first official visit to Israel where the issue of renegotiating the Iran deal was brought up.
In a joint statement with Austin, Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz has promised Israeli cooperation on Iran as long as Israeli security was safeguarded. Similarly, Austin reaffirmed American commitment to Israel’s “qualitative military edge” in the region.
Netanhuyu neither confirmed nor denied the latest attack. But he did vaguely comment on the incident by stating that “the fight against Iran and its proxies is a… massive task. The way things are now doesn’t mean they will stay that way later on.”
Netanyahu might also be stepping up his efforts in dealing with Iran to shift focus from his domestic shortcomings. He had denounced the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly referred to as the Iran nuclear deal, when it had come into being and similarly stated last Wednesday that “a deal with Iran that threatens us with annihilation will not obligate us.”
The US may again be hard-pressed in juggling Israeli interests with Iranian ones in any future deals. Biden has promised a return to the JCPOA. But aggravated attacks on Iran might make it less inclined to negotiate.
Meanwhile, the other signatories of the deal — Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia — met to deliberate on the issue in Vienna last Friday.